Safe parking sites designed to help a growing number of homeless residents living in cars and RVs will remain open through June, thanks to seven month's worth of new funding from Santa Clara County.
County supervisors approved more than $556,000 in funding this month to help pay for safe parking sites operated by the nonprofit Move Mountain View, which provides support to vehicle dwellers in Mountain View and Palo Alto. The program is intended to get those living in cars and RVs off of city streets and into a location where they can receive social services and help finding housing.
Safe parking spots were virtually nonexistent in the Santa Clara County three years ago, but they have since become an integral part of the county's homelessness strategy. A 2019 census found an increasing number of unhoused residents, 1,750 in total, are relying on cars and RVs as shelters. The trend is even stronger in the northern end of the county, where 1 in 4 homeless people are living in vehicles.
County officials describe safe parking sites as an imperfect solution, saying that the preference is still to house homeless residents in traditional shelters. But many vehicle residents are reluctant to give up their RVs and enter the county's shelter system, making safe parking sites an appealing alternative. What's more, safe parking lots are relatively cheap to operate and easy to launch, county officials said.
The funding for Move Mountain View glided to approval on Nov. 16 with little discussion and will help pay for safe parking services through June 30, 2022. After the vote, county Supervisor Joe Simitian said in a statement that he was happy to see the program continue, and that safe parking sites are just one part of the county's answer to homelessness.
"While it's certainly not a long-term solution, safe parking provides residents with some measure of stability while they seek permanent housing," Simitian said. "The goal is to move people through the program, out of the program and into a better place."
Most of the funding goes to pay for parking lot monitors and case workers, and also pays for portable toilets and other operational staff.
Move Mountain View runs a large portion of the county's safe parking spaces, most of which are in Mountain View. The bulk of the spaces are available to oversized vehicles like RVs, followed by passenger vehicles and "secondary" vehicles used by residents while their RVs remain parked at the site. The number is flexible, but there are roughly 100 spaces across Mountain View.
Earlier this year, the nonprofit expanded its presence into Palo Alto with a safe parking site on Geng Road, which can fit up to 12 vehicles. Move Mountain View also runs two small, four-space safe parking sites on church properties, one at Lord's Grace Christian Church in Mountain View and another at Highway Palo Alto Community in Christ in Palo Alto.
Though safe parking has proliferated in the county as a solution to homelessness, the demand still outstrips the number of available spaces. Past surveys in Mountain View have counted anywhere between 250 to 300 inhabited vehicles parked on public streets, most of which are RVs, and the number did not decrease substantially after the safe parking programs launched in earnest in early 2020.
In August, Mountain View rolled out a new ordinance that prohibits oversized vehicles from parking on most city streets, adding a sense of urgency to the city's efforts to relocate vehicle residents into safe parking lots. The city, for its part, has contributed $400,000 in funding to operate the program.
"Mountain View remains committed to working with the county to prevent homelessness and respond to the needs of the unhoused in our community," Mountain View Mayor Ellen Kamei said in a statement last week. "The housing crisis is one that can only be solved if we bring all partners together and use every tool at our disposal to address it."
In the case of the Mountain View lots, families who live in Mountain View with kids enrolled in local schools are given first priority, followed by those who had a legal address in Mountain View or worked in the city. Seniors are given third preference, followed by those with disabilities.
County officials also inked a $301,000 agreement with the nonprofit WeHope to provide mobile hygiene services at the safe parking lots, including showers and laundry services. The van sticks around for four hours at a time, and can provide 40 showers and 20 loads of laundry per visit.